# Mathematical formula predicts clear favorite for the FIFA World Cup

##### Jul 09, 2010

A sophisticated new analysis of team tactics predicts a Spanish win in Sunday's FIFA World Cup final and also shows why England were beaten by Germany.

Mathematicians and football supporters Dr Javier López Peña and Dr Hugo Touchette from Queen Mary, University of London have collected ball passing data from all of the FIFA games and analysed it to reveal the nations' different styles of play.

Using the mathematical technique called Graph Theory, they have revealed the gaping holes in England's tactics against Germany game and made predictions about the Netherlands-Spain final that could rival the psychic octopus.

For each national side, Drs López Peña and Touchette have drawn up a 'network' of passes between players throughout the tournament and analysed how these networks compare between teams. Dr Touchette explains: "Each player in the network is given a score called centrality which measures how vital they are to the network. The higher the centrality score, the bigger the impact if that player wasn't there. This method is most commonly used to make more robust, but it can also be used to plan football strategy."

Graph Theory is used to analyse different types of network, most commonly to investigate computer networks - such as the internet - and to model what would happen if different parts of the networks were suddenly removed. This type of research, which takes place in Queen Mary's School of Mathematical Sciences, can make computer networks more robust and less susceptible to disruption.

The Netherlands-Spain prediction

The networks reveal Spanish players have made a strikingly high number of passes this tournament, almost 40 per cent more than Germany and twice as many as the Dutch. "The team relies on swift passes that are well distributed among all players, especially between those playing mid-field," said Dr López Peña.

David Villa, the tournament's highest goal scorer, has received an average of 37 passes per game, more than any other forward from all the teams. Dr López Peña said: "Villa's performance has been impressive compared with Fernando Torres, who has not scored any goals this tournament. This was reflected in the successful Spanish tactics, with Torres only receiving an average of 13 passes per match, and 37 to Villa."

Conversely, the Dutch gameplay is clearly offensive, involving a very low number of passes between players, most of which are aimed at the strikers. Dr López Peña said: "The low number of passes shows the Dutch prefer quick attacks and counterstrikes rather than intricate playing. Their goals are often scored from set pieces such as free kicks and they use their physical presence to beat their opponents."

The England-Germany match

The analysis shows the English squad to have a balanced line-up with no single player more important than the team as a whole. Dr López Peña said: "The good midfield work of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry doesn't appear to transfer very well to the forwards, with Wayne Rooney receiving on average three times more passes than Jermain Defoe. This makes the English attack very predictable and easily stoppable by blocking Rooney, who is usually forced to give the ball back to Gerrard."

The German network appears even more balanced than the English one, with a higher number of passes, suggesting more circulation of the ball. "Particularly relevant are the passes between Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger and most of the German attacks are built up from the defenders. Mesut Oezil makes good work connecting both sides of the field on the attack, making the German offensive game very effective and hard to defend against. The key player in the German strategy remains Schweinsteiger, who was effectively blocked by the Spanish midfielders' characteristic fast circulation in their semi-final defeat," said Dr López Peña.

Explore further: Strong teams attract crowds for international cricket

## Related Stories

#### Using science to identify true soccer stars

Jun 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- As a young boy growing up in Portugal, Luis Amaral loved playing, watching and talking soccer. Amaral and his friends passionately debated about which players were "the best." But, it was ...

#### A convincing calculation: ten soccer players ensure excitement

Mar 13, 2006

One ball, two goals and 22 soccer players – and the game can begin. But why are there ten players of one team on the field and no more or less? This is what Metin Tolan, professor for experimental physics ...

#### Researchers identify a molecule that increases the risk of cardiac insufficiency

Apr 24, 2009

A team of scientists from the Center for Applied Medical Research (CIMA) of the University of Navarra has identified a key enzyme in the development of cardiac insufficiency. This enzyme is involved in the accumulation of ...

#### Scientist's formula backs Germany to win soccer World Cup

Apr 21, 2010

A university professor has developed a mathematical formula which, he claims, shows Germany will win the 2010 World Cup in South Africa this June.

#### Twitter launches own site for World Cup

Jun 11, 2010

A number of World Cup teams have banned their players from using Twitter during the tournament but the micro-blogging service is getting in on the act with its own site for the event.

#### Best Team Not Guaranteed World Cup Success

Jun 11, 2010

The World Cup offers fans of the globe's most popular sport the chance to thrill and agonize over the ups and downs of their nations' teams. For scientists, whether or not they are fans, it's another chance ...

## Recommended for you

#### Optimising the future with mathematics

4 hours ago

How will science address the challenges of the future? In collaboration with Australia's chief scientist Ian Chubb, we're asking how each science discipline will contribute to Australia now and in the fu ...

#### Strong teams attract crowds for international cricket

Mar 06, 2014

The strength of the team—not the promise of a close contest—is the biggest draw to crowds in international cricket, new research has found.

#### Improving radiation therapies for cancer mathematically

Mar 05, 2014

In a paper published in December in the SIAM Journal on Scientific Computing, authors Li-Tien Cheng, Bin Dong, Chunhua Men, Xun Jia, and Steve Jiang propose a method to optimize radiation therapy treatments in cancer patien ...

#### Computational study finds maximum packing density of 55,000 different shapes

Mar 05, 2014

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan has used computational and analytical analysis to find the maximum packing density of 55,000 uniquely shaped particles. In their paper published in the ...

#### Secret to the perfect pancake is discovered

Mar 04, 2014

In a collaboration with Meadowhall Shopping Centre, students from the University's Maths Society (SUMS) developed, trialled and tested a formula which enables pancake-lovers across the world to rustle-up ...

##### HFlash
5 / 5 (5) Jul 09, 2010
So, the SUCCESSFUL Spanish tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Villa receives about three times as many passes as Torres. The FAILED English tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Rooney receives about three times as many passes as Defoe. Brilliant insight. Here's hoping the "sophisticated new analysis" is a lot better than this article suggests.
##### SteveL
not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
"and also shows why England were beaten by Germany." Apparently English grammar differs from American English grammar.

Interesting thing about formulas is that you can make them to fit any specific situation. This formula would need significantly more testing to verify its accuracy and usefulness. If it works, or shows sufficient accuracy, it will be banned for gambling purposes. Oh, why compete if you know who is going to win before you even start?
##### jmegraw
5 / 5 (1) Jul 09, 2010
more accurate than the octopus?
##### Bob_B
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 09, 2010
Boring science.
##### BobSage
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 09, 2010
"and also shows why England were beaten by Germany." Apparently English grammar differs from American English grammar.

Yes, it is weird. But soccer teams are referred to in the plural.
##### baudrunner
1.9 / 5 (9) Jul 09, 2010
Passing isn't everything. They could pass all game long and it wouldn't mean a damn thing if they didn't get a shot on goal. For that matter, observing the Dutch play leads one to conclude that they control the game with their ball-handling and their passing, which they also do with uncanny precision. They have not lost in their last 24 international matches. Spain lost 1:0 to Switzerland during group play.

I would say that the only advantage that Spain has over the Netherlands is in the size of their players. They are a large people. That puts them in a different contextual framework of sorts, and this can throw the opposition off. However, Holland has shown themselves to be very capable of beating the other teams at their game.
##### zevkirsh
not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
magic octopus made the same predictions. it knows more than we can imagine.
##### p0l4r21
not rated yet Jul 09, 2010
So, the SUCCESSFUL Spanish tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Villa receives about three times as many passes as Torres. The FAILED English tactics are demonstrated by the fact that Rooney receives about three times as many passes as Defoe. Brilliant insight. Here's hoping the "sophisticated new analysis" is a lot better than this article suggests.

The article states that the Spanish pass the ball more than any other team in the tournament. It also states that Germany defeated the English with more passing. Since the English passed the ball so little it was easy to predict the ball going to Rooney where as with the Germans there were more passes making it harder to predict when the ball is going to there lead forward. With the Spanish there are so many passes, granted they pass to Villa the most but all teams pass to one forward more than any other, predicting the Spanish's strike is nearly impossible.
##### Koen
1 / 5 (8) Jul 09, 2010
Spain is the best team, not only because of the number of offensive passes, but also their speed and control over the ball. But if the Dutch players can shake of their nervousness they can play better and win.

So many factors are involved, no graph calculation can ever realistically predict the winner. May the best team win, viva Espania, leve Holland.
##### PhysicsLver21
1 / 5 (3) Jul 10, 2010
I would say that the only advantage that Spain has over the Netherlands is in the size of their players. They are a large people. That puts them in a different contextual framework of sorts, and this can throw the opposition off. However, Holland has shown themselves to be very capable of beating the other teams at their game.

actually the game of futbol is based more on possession and passing... you are wrong to say that spain is a "larger" team physically when actually it is the dutch that are larger.. which is one of the main strengths of holland because their forcefulness to get to the ball and their "size".. hard to beat someone when they are physically stronger than you... and because of spains fundamentals and their attacking capabilities of their possession style offense their is no way the dutch are gonna come out of this game as winners... spain all the way
##### zbarlici
not rated yet Jul 10, 2010
apply these analysis to figure out why some nerds at the bar dont end up pickin up the chikas, and ill bet it`ll be a big  maker :) :)
##### Nederluv
not rated yet Jul 10, 2010
These guys should be fired for wasting valuable tax money. How could such research ever contribute to society? Even if it wasn't utter nonsense. Math nerds seem to make a religion out of maths nowadays... When will these guys ever realise that you can't predict everything with mathmetics! It is the amount of goals that count and not the amount of passes. The Spanish team might play well, but they are extremely slow and have a hard time scoring. The Dutch team plays horribly, but is swift and score easily. With their swift players and high efficiency the Dutch team definitely stand a chance against the Spanish team.
##### Nederluv
not rated yet Jul 10, 2010
One more thing:
Before the FIFA World Cup mathmeticians from the Swiss bank UBS predicted the final would be Serbia - Brazil.
Maths is so horribly overrated nowadays. You can use it in chemistry or physics, but not in sports or economics.
##### droid001
not rated yet Jul 11, 2010
Spain wins. Both Pauli and mathematicians was right.
##### droid001
5 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2010
Spain wins. Both Pauli and mathematicians were right.
##### PhysicsLver21
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2010
One more thing:
Before the FIFA World Cup mathmeticians from the Swiss bank UBS predicted the final would be Serbia - Brazil.
Maths is so horribly overrated nowadays. You can use it in chemistry or physics, but not in sports or economics.

well your obviously wrong because they used math to determine the winner of the world cup and they predicted correctly... so hence forth math is not overrated and obviously can be used in sports AND economics lol
##### malapropism
not rated yet Jul 11, 2010
These guys should be fired for wasting valuable tax money. How could such research ever contribute to society?

Well, I'm unsure if you'd call it a contribution to society but I'm pretty certain that some football teams and coaches will sit up and take notice of this maths now - and start using it to improve their team play if they have any sense.

So, let's speculate that the Netherlands team had heard of this research some time ago when it was still just a concept, had decided that it might pay off, had convinced the Netherlands Govt sporting body (whatever it's called) to fund it and had used it to improve their play and win the FIFA World Cup. Do you think they'd consider it a waste of tax money?
Even if it wasn't utter nonsense. Math nerds seem to make a religion out of maths nowadays... When will these guys ever realise that you can't predict everything with mathmetics!

Not such utter nonsense now? It predicted correctly. Perhaps time to eat some humble pie?
##### Mister_Sinister
not rated yet Jul 12, 2010
Dont forget Mourinho also predicted Spain as the favourite...

## More news stories

#### Study shows men and women both biased against women's math abilities

(Phys.org) —A study conducted by business and economic researchers Ernesto Reuben, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales, has found that both men and women hold biases against women's math abilities. In their ...

#### Study finds investors prefer good-looking male backed entrepreneurial ventures

(Phys.org) —A study conducted by a team of researchers from Harvard, Wharton and MIT has revealed that venture capitalists prefer to back entrepreneurial opportunities when pitched by a man and that they ...

When it comes to shopping for gifts, we try to select things we think people both want and need. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, focusing too much on the gift recipient can lead to giving the gi ...

#### What's the upside of feeling too sad for chocolate?

The instant gratification and the pleasure derived from consuming excessive chocolate and deep-fried foods can lead way to a double-edged sword of negative consequences ranging from weight gain to feelings of low self-esteem. ...

#### Power play: Empowered consumers are more likely to switch brands

As consumers, we form favorite brands and select services providers from a plethora of choices. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, how powerful we feel in our daily lives may impact our likelihood of swi ...

#### For older men, short telomeres can be a sign of chronic stress

(Medical Xpress)—Andrew Steptoe of University College London and his colleagues have found that telomere length can predict how long it takes older men to recover from stressful situations. Men with shorter ...

#### Sharp or flat: Gene clues into musical ability

Music surfaces frequently in the great Nature vs. Nurture debate: Why can someone be a virtuoso pianist yet their neighbour be a musical duffer? Does the answer lie in genes or upbringing?

#### Researchers closer to improving safety, effectiveness of lithium therapy

Lithium, one of the oldest and most widely used drugs to treat neuropsychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, has a serious drawback – toxicity. In a continued effort to find a safer form of lithium, ...

#### Timid jumping spider uses ant as bodyguard

A timid jumping spider uses the scent of ants as a secret weapon to save itself from becoming the somewhat soggy prey of the predatory spitting spider. The downside to this plan is that jumping spiders are ...

#### New technique uses ATP as trigger for targeted anti-cancer drug delivery

Biomedical engineering researchers have developed a new technique that uses adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP), the so-called "energy molecule," to trigger the release of anti-cancer drugs directly into cancer ...